How Nylander's contract affects the Leafs' salary cap going forward

Dec 3 2018, 8:03 am

After the lengthiest Restricted Free Agent standoff in NHL history, William Nylander finally signed a contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday night.

Coming into the league office five minutes before the 5 pm ET deadline – that if missed meant he could not play in the NHL this season – Nylander and the Maple Leafs eventually settled on a six-year deal worth $45 million. 

And while Leafs fans are obviously happy that Nylander will play hockey in Toronto this season, they should also be happy about the some nifty salary cap manoeuvring by Leafs management.

How the contract is structured

Unlike most other contracts, Nylander’s cap hit isn’t calculated by simply dividing the total dollar amount ($45 million) by the number of years (6). Because it was signed in-season, his cap hit will actually be much higher in year 1, saving the Leafs money in future years when they really need it.

If this deal was signed before the start of the season, Nylander would have a cap hit of $7.5 million. Instead, the final five years of the deal will have a cap hit of  just $6,962,366.

There’s a prorated cap hit of $10,277,778 in the first year of the deal – which suits the Leafs just fine. Toronto has five roster players on entry-level contracts, and an additional six making less than a million dollars per season.

What Nylander brings to the table

Despite being a budding star in his own right, Nylander often couldn’t escape comparisons to his own teammates.

Of players 21 or under (to begin last season), Nylander finished 13th in the league in points with 61, a total that matched his first full season in the NHL a year prior, but behind two fellow Leafs in Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews, who hit 69 and 62 points, respectively. It was, not surprisingly, a unique situation.

Outside of Winnipeg (who had two in Patrik Laine and Nikolaj Ehlers), no team had more than a single under-21 player hit 60 points. Of course, it’s a great problem to have, but it’ll make navigating the salary cap easier said than done in the coming years.

Who’s left?

The thing about the ripple effects of the Nylander negotiation is the toughest decisions actually likely shouldn’t come from two of the Leafs’ biggest stars in Matthews and Marner, who both face expiring contracts at the end of this season.

Sure, they’ll take up a fairly significant chunk of the cap, but it’s less likely Dubas will want to see two more negotiations drag on into the season. And with the players foreseeably settling for a larger amount than what Nylander signed for, it’s also plausible to say that there’s a decreased chance of pushback from the player’s camp to battle over dollars and cents.

1. Auston Matthews

A dynamic player ever since his unforgettable four-goal debut, the most reasonable cap hit for Matthews falls in the $10.5-$12.25 million dollar range – higher than Buffalo’s Jack Eichel, but lower than Connor McDavid.  

Outlook: While the exact number is anyone’s guess, it seems like a cap hit similar to John Tavares’ $11 million per year signed this past offseason will be more or less the expected range.

2. Mitch Marner

Off to an incredible start with 38 points (including 32 assists) in 27 games, Marner’s contract demands seem to be growing higher after every game. While media members have been tossing per-year figures as high as $10-million, it seems like that still might be a reach for the 21-year old.

Outlook: A decent comparable could be Tampa Bay Lightning right winger Nikita Kucherov, who is one of just three players in the league last season to hit the 100-point barrier signed an eight-year deal paying him $9.5 million per season.

3. Jake Gardiner

Lastly, defenceman Jake Gardiner may in fact be the cap casualty in all this, as he’s in line for likely the largest contract of his career.

Set to be an unrestricted free agent after the season for the first time, it makes sense the Leafs would move on from a 28-year-old defenceman if it’s needed to keep their younger core intact. Unfortunately, the loss would also sting the Leafs, who would be losing one of their top options on the back end.

And despite occasionally getting lambasted by the fanbase, Leafs’ coach Mike Babcock has continually sung the praises of the Minnesota native.

Outlook: Only time will tell on whether Gardiner sticks around, but this could be his last season in Toronto.

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